Our national commentariat is twisted in an impossible yoga pose trying to compare anti-Bain Capital coverage to the famous 2004 “Swift Boat” ad campaign. The two situations are not close to analogous. I have a more-than-passing acquaintance with the Swift Boat ads - I helped produce them.
Our liberal news media continue to fabricate and fantasize about the Swift Boat saga, which proved to be a decisive moment in the 2004 election. In the parlance of the media, the ads run by a group of veterans opposed to John Kerry were a “smear” and were “discredited.” They were neither, and the only institution that smeared and ultimately was discredited was the liberal press.
Mr. Kerry’s entire chain of command in Vietnam and most of the officers in his own unit, with little political help and funding, stood up at the National Press Club in the spring of 2004 and gave detailed reasons that their colleague was unfit to be president. They used their names and were specific and powerful about their complaints. Had the same collection of respected veterans aired grievances against President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, the coverage would have been thunderous. But because it would have hurt Mr. Kerry and thus helped Mr. Bush, the media flatly refused to cover the powerful Swift Boat story, using flimsy excuses that the testimonials didn’t “advance the ball” on known facts.
So instead of accepting the blatant media bias, the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth initially raised a small amount of money and took their case directly to the public, circumventing the liberal media filter. Despite constant attacks from the left-in-the-dust media, the television ads proved to be a critical turning point in the race. The liberal media tried to fight back by planting a phony memo in President Bushs military personnel file, but the conservative new media exposed that lie and the CBS/Dan Rather smear backfired.
Flash forward eight years later, and liberals are fantasizing that Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital record will prove to be his John Kerry moment. He will be “Swiftboated,” they say with glee. The differences are immense, however.
First, the news media met this story (that could help President Obama) with exactly the opposite stance they took to the tale of the Swifties. Instead of blocking it, reporters are gushing about the story and spreading it as fast and far as they can and projecting it as a weapon in the fall for Mr. Obama. Even though Mr. Romney’s Bain record is not a new story, gone are the media’s excuses about “advancing the ball.” Reporters and commentators are barely trying to fact-check it, and when a fact-check is done, they gloss right over it in their childlike excitement for the retooled Obama attacks to come.
The biggest difference is the substance of the allegations. Liberals spin endlessly that had Mr. Kerry “fought back sooner,” he would have neutralized the Swift Boat issue. The dirty little secret is that Mr. Kerry had few facts and few allies to fight back with. One of the only close allies who defended Mr. Kerry publicly was recently stripped of his Silver Star and, in a separate incident, convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to prison. A $1 million dare by Swift Boat ad supporter T. Boone Pickens for Mr. Kerry to prove false any substantial point of the ad campaign went uncollected. Mr. Kerry had nothing to fight back with and, ironically, the lack of scrutiny in the primaries left the Democrats with a nominee vulnerable in the general election.
All the facts are not known yet about Bain, but it strikes me that Mr. Romney has plenty of ammunition to neutralize the attacks or even cause them to backfire. Bain helped recognizable and popular companies such as Staples and the Sports Authority thrive. I’m sure the campaign will parade people before the camera who are happy and prosperous in part because of Bain. Already, there is plenty of video of liberal and moderate media commentators who say Bain has an impeccable reputation and operates much differently from the distorted portrayals that we’ve seen and will see this fall. Moreover, I’m confident that Mr. Romney, in sharp contrast with Mr. Kerry, has plenty of on-camera surrogates who will counter the smears from the Obama machine.
In my mind, at least, “swiftboating” is defined as the liberal media’s attempt to prevent a powerful truth from reaching the electorate. The anti-Bain Capital story will not be stifled by the mainstream press. If anything, it will be massively overcovered and unfairly embellished.
The only similarities between Bain Capital and the Swift Boat saga are that both subjects are from Massachusetts and that the press is openly advocating for the same political party eight years later.
Rick Reed is a GOP ad producer and strategist who co-produced the Swift Boat ad campaign in 2004. He is president of Rick Reed Media.